Knowing What to do Next
Do you know what task you can do next to move your genealogy research forward the most? How about all the searches you need to do next time you’re on WorldVitalRecords.com? These and other questions are best asked of and answered by an effective genealogy to-do list. Such a task list serves two purposes critical to family history research.
The first purpose is to capture all those opportunities you discover while you research one subject, but are too disciplined to go chasing after. We’ve all experienced the peculiar temporal slippage that happens when we succumb to temptation and follow lead after lead; time seems to compress. Hours later we break free of the phenomenon only to find that we haven’t accomplished anything except perhaps entertaining ourselves.
To be sure, being “in the zone” like that can be fun. It can be productive too, as long as we stay focused on our purpose. Otherwise our original question remains unanswered and those leads we chased go undocumented; the family history is no clearer. Whether we remain focused on the research subject or not, the right task list can help us to capture all those opportunities that would otherwise be missed. To accomplish this it must be easy to put tasks in and get back to our work so that we stay “in the zone.”
Simple, Powerful Retrieval
The second purpose of an effective task list is recalling tasks. Just retrieving the tasks isn’t enough. It can’t be like I remember my mom’s purse when I was a kid. It seemed to hold more items than the laws of physics would allow. Extracting anything below the top layer was difficult and more often than not lead to discoveries of treasures previously lost to civilization. Your task list can’t be like that purse if you’re going to effectively find your ancestors.
The task list you need will make it easy to find that one item you’re looking for. Just as importantly it must help you recall groups of related tasks. One example of the power of this ability is extracting a list of all the research tasks to be done at a specific location, even a virtual location like the Internet or a specific website. This allows you to make more efficient use of your limited time by batching tasks just like when you go grocery shopping. You try to get everything one aisle at a time without backtracking. It get’s the job done quicker. So it is with genealogy research. Your task list ought to make this a simple matter.
The Best Task List Tools
Only one of the three top genealogy applications on the Macintosh has to-do list functionality and it is extremely limited. iFamily for Leopard supports storing and recalling tasks associated with a person, but has no ability to search tasks across the database that I could find. That clearly won’t do.
I spent the morning yesterday trying to force Reunion 9 for Mac to do be a task list manager through creative and often painful contortions. The closest I came was using miscellaneous notes with clever text tags, but ultimately, retrieval was complicated and I think I sprained an ankle.
We’re going to have to look outside our genealogy software for this research tool. That’s where I’m going in the rest of this article series. I’ll walk you through several options for keeping your genealogy research task list. I’m covering several because, like shoes and genealogy software, one size does not fit all.
Until then, please share your task management approach in a comment below. Where do you keep your to-do list? What’s your system? How’s it working for you?